Joe Hill never died, he went on to organize!

On this Labor Day weekend, I’d like to offer the song “Joe Hill” to all my union-supporting friends, and share the story of the man who helped me as a union organizer in what seem another lifetime ago.

Joe Hill came to the United States from Sweden and worked on railroads and in the mines. He joined the IWW, the Industrial Workers of the World (known as the “Wobblies”) in hopes to unionize all workers for a better living wages and conditions.

He wrote songs and poems, which were published throughout the states. They included “The Preacher and the Slave” (in which he created the phrase “pie in the sky”), “The Tramp“, “There is Power in a Union“, “The Rebel Girl“, and “Casey Jones—the Union Scab“, which expressed the harsh but combative life of itinerant workers, and call for workers to organize their efforts to improve working conditions. of all workers.    

Hill was convicted of two murders in a controversial trial. Following an unsuccessful appeal, political debates, and international calls for clemency from high-profile figures and workers’ organizations, Hill was executed in November 1915.

 

After his death, he was memorialized by several folk songs, including the one below, which Joan Baez sang at Woodstock in 1969. I listened to it when I was organizing newspapers in the mid-1980s in Reading, Pa, Atlantic City, NJ and in West Chester, Pa, and I always got a chill, particularly when Joe Hill says what they couldn’t kill “went on to organize.”

Give a listen!

 I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night,
Alive as you or me
Says I, “But Joe, you’re ten years dead,”
“I never died,” says he.
“I never died,” says he.

“In Salt Lake, Joe,” says I to him,
Him standing by my bed,
“They framed you on a murder charge,”
Says Joe, “But I ain’t dead,”
Says Joe, “But I ain’t dead.”

“The copper bosses killed you, Joe,
They shot you, Joe,” says I.
“Takes more than guns to kill a man,”
Says Joe, “I didn’t die,”
Says Joe, “I didn’t die.”

And standing there as big as life
And smiling with his eyes
Says Joe, “What they forgot to kill
Went on to organize,
Went on to organize.”

“Joe Hill ain’t dead,” he says to me,
“Joe Hill ain’t never died.
Where working men are out on strike
Joe Hill is at their side,
Joe Hill is at their side.”

From San Diego up to Maine,
In every mine and mill –
Where working men defend their rights
It’s there you’ll find Joe Hill.
It’s there you’ll find Joe Hill.

I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night,
Alive as you or me
Says I, “But Joe, you’re ten years dead”,
“I never died,” says he.
“I never died,” says he.

3 comments on “Joe Hill never died, he went on to organize!

  1. contoveros says:

    In 2011, researchers discovered a letter exonerating Joe Hill.

    Attempts were made to show how the court erroneously arrived at the guilty verdict; all of the trial records disappeared shortly after the sentence was imposed.

    Joe Hill was executed by a Utah firing squad despite a plea for clemency by none other than President Woodrow Wilson.

    Like

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